Textile scholars generally agree that knitting took hold in Scandinavia first in Denmark in the sixteenth century. Knitting traditions in Denmark apparently owe much to Dutch families who settled on the island of Amager, near Copenhagen. They brought their own styles with them and passed on their patterns (favoring simple, knit-purl designs) to Danish workers. From the seventeenth century onward, the Danish favored fabrics that were textured, as if they were damask. In knitting, damask does not refer to the lustrous, reversible jacquard fabric that makes such wonderful upholstery. Rather, damask knitting is textured through simple purl stitch patterning, and is technically (but not visually) reversible, like woven damask fabrics. Damask knitting of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries imitated aristocratic garments knit the same way, only of silk and much finer, which were an expensive English export.
The traditional Danish knitted garments most often referenced are the nattrøjer, a tight-fitting night shirt, and the skrå-trøje. Beth Brown Reinsel has developed classes and patterns for both. Follow the link to get more info about her skrå-trøje design (about which I know absolutely nothing except that I want to make one!). Another traditional Danish design is the sømandssweater, or sailor’s sweater.
Here’s an image from F. C. Lund’s portfolio, “Dansk Nationaldragter” from the Historiemaler Series (Kolding, 1915). Lund’s series is on historic Danish folk costumes, and interestingly, several of his models knit or wear knitted garments. This image depicts a girl from Refsnæs (in north Jutland, or Nordjylland), who knits while she walks in wooden shoes, also carrying what looks like a cask of butter on her head.
More recently, Denmark has been in the knitting news for the work of Danish designer Vivan Høxbro. She has explored domino (another D!) and shadow knitting to produce some really unusual fabrics. Her kits are distributed in the US by Harrisville Designs.
Danish Knitting Bib
- Brown-Reinsel, Beth. Pattern for a Danish Nattrøjer, Interweave Knits (Winter 2004).
- Druchunas, Donna. Ethnic Knitting Discovery: the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and the Andes (Nomad Press, 2007)
- Lind, Vibeke. Knitting in the Nordic Tradition (Lark Books, 1984)
- McGregor, Sheila. Traditional Scandinavian Knitting (St. Martins Press, 1984)
- Norbury, James. Traditional Knitting Patterns from Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, Italy and other European Countries (Dover, 1962)
- Pagoldh, Susanne. Nordic Knitting (Interweave Press, 1991)
- Rosing-Schow, Lita, “Two pairs of knitted gloves from Denmark and a Man's Danish Gloves to knit” Piecework Magazine, Special Knitting Issue (Jan.-Feb. 2008).
- Selvedge Magazine Scandinavian Issue (Vol. 20, Nov/Dec 2007)
- Danish-English knitting glossary
- Beth Brown-Reinsel’s Danish knitting traditions classes
- Donna Druchunas’s blog entries on Danish designs
- Nordic Fiber Arts
- Flickr pictures described with Danish + Knitting
- Knitting stores in Denmark
- Danish yarn
And just because
A nineteenth-century knitting sampler that includes a textured alphabet that is neither Danish nor damask, but is English and recalls what might have been an inspiration for the knit-purl damask knitting fabrics.